To Hel and Back :: Edit your Template To Hel and Back: May 2005

Monday, May 30, 2005

A rushed note from Kemer

A scramble of apologies from the Turkish coast; posting has been delayed by a blown light in my laptop screen and a diversion to hospital involving my blood pressure and some other nasties.

My note book aches to blog.

Sunday, May 29, 2005

Whingings from my journal

I don't like anything about this place, the crazy mass of humanity breakfasts, the tunnel that stops you from walking to the street, the animal zoo, the fences and walls to keep us in or to keep others out? The pretense of a five star hotel built on two star service. The mountains are only an arm's reach beyond my window. They are thick with foliage and stuck down with clouds. But I have to block the Crazy Wolf water park from my view before I can enjoy them. And worse, I cannot hear the call to prayer.

I hate my meaningless work and the same old same old.

I feel dizzy and vacant from too many things.

I have set up a collection of onyx, cats and postcards - my Uchisar shrine that I workship before I fall asleep.

Saturday, May 28, 2005


Strangely my journal has no scribbles for this difficult day.

H is aloof and absent.

Storms break over Uchisar. I watch them come in across the valley and plains and shatter above my head, above the Kale. Moments before I reach Restaurant 96, wind howls and forces everyone to gather kilims and shut doors. Lutfi rescues me and we watch from Piegon Valley as the rain falls, and the sky colours grey like my heart.

H has done this before. He has perfected the farewell. The stones of Uchisar are nothing compared to his own defences. He visits for half an hour. Half an hour of lovely lovely time. And then tout d'un coup... "je pars" and I can't believe he is leaving before me...

He says his goodbye when he is ready, when his moment is perfect and walks away that much easier. Unprepared, I watch him walk down Derebag Sokak and my tears are fat and heavy like the rain, my breath shaky and pathetic against the thunder. How do you thank someone from nursing you without demand, for caring without request. How can your school girl French, your phrase book Turkish ever say enough.

It can't and the words choke in my throat.

Au revoir, until I see you again.

Lutfi lets go differently. Reluctantly, he checks my seat on the bus, he checks the driver and conductor know who I am. He stands watching as the bus pulls away. I am out of tears but I feel his rise.

Only sleep saves me from sadness.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Hallucinations of home

I think I hear someone pulling a wheely bin.

I crave hamburger.

I'm sick of finding dust everywhere.

Can I go home now?

Raining cats and nurses

Today's nurse is new. New enough to ask if I am Turkish. Everyone in this village knows I am sick and I am "turist".

She hurts more than the others. H reckons it is because I am getting better and now the pain of the injections becomes relevant. But after the evening injection I know it's personal. She's digging for bone, breaking off the tip of each needle, leaving it embedded in my flesh.

There are many cats on the way streets after the rain. It's all that comforts me. Druggy, who is the only cat who doesn't move when I approach him, is hanging about, as is a tabby who teases an old custard Labrador.

On the way to the evening injection, I want to bottle how good I feel. Not because I feel particularly good, after all I can barely shuffle up Goreme Caddessi, but because I don't want to feel lousy after the injections. I treat myself to a UK paper which is full of stories of Kylie with breast cancer. I think of the people I know who have gone through chemotherapy and how exhausting it must be to battle against the pain of a therapy you can't see. My injection haze fades.

Conversation with H:

"Where have you been? The dog, he needs a good role model and you're not around for him. I think you need to spend time with him. Last night, I was in his kennel and I found pornography. Naked cats. You need to talk to him."

We giggle inside the "Merc" on the way out to the doctors.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005


There is an invisible donkey. I can hear its asthmatic bray frequently. But it's absence, rather than it's presence is annoying. I can't see it from my window. But it sounds like it's just outside my room. I can see into the courtyard next door, where you would imagine people would have cars, or plants, but here usually have chickens and horses. But there is no donkey.

The dog, who I call crazy dog, moans from his cave palace every time prayer is called. Not just the nearest mosque but any in the area. He howls in harmony, song like, not barking. I think he feels it is the call to supper. Sometimes he makes crazy Cujo noises from behind the door but I know he can only dribble and sit on my foot in stupidity.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Going up; the temperature kind

Sometimes I feel good enough to sit up. There is nothing in English to read and because I often lie awake in a fever in the middle of the night, thinking in French, I refuse to read in French. My brain needs a break. The screen on my laptop has blown a bulb. My communicator connects to various websites at its own will and only so many friends have the time or inclination to keep in touch.

So to pass the time, I take my temperature. I take it in my mouth and under my arm at random times, during fever, post fever and really post fever (to check it's gone).

I also started making casual notes of my temperature in my journal. I realised I would be really losing the plot once I started taking my temperature rectally.

Monday, May 23, 2005


Guzelyurt is charming. It is cool monastic stone and high ceilings, shaded gardens and flowers in the setting sun light. It's a bustling market Monday madness with calls of cheap goods and coloured cups and plates stacked on an intersection. It's signs to adventure, to monastery valley and to underground cities, but its lagrest sign is to itself, its name spelt out in stones on the hill behind the town. It is fireworks popping and unseen voices celebrating a football win. A delirious fever dream at my window.

It's bloodied bandages on a hospital floor, or locals staring at the "turist", being upside downs drip attached, listening, shivering. It's wondering "what is this stain on the wall?" It's eyes shutting against heavy closing pain and not wanting to open, wanting to shut out chaos.

It's a corridor or dark curious weathered faces, squatting, sitting, and a Turkish toilet with a door that doesn't shut, drip still attached, and a plastic drink cup not suited for this purpose.

It's the odd wail of pain from the young which subsides with a curiousity to look at the turist, prostrate, shivering, gulping her second drip.

It's H arriving, covered in broken down car dirt, and concern in every part of his usually cool face, saying I can't stay here, caring and dressing and washing and packing.

It's tears of pain and fever and fear merging into 40 degree sleep and urges to sweat and being lead like a child to the safety of Uchisar.

Sunday, May 22, 2005

The perpetrators shall remain anonymous

Things a man should not do if he's trying to woo you.

Smoke drugs in front of tourists who were brought up on Midnight Express.

Spend the last night together separating herb from tobacco one piece of leaf at a time.

Present a girl with a carefully wrapped package which she assumes is a birthday present but ends up being a packet of condoms. Subtle eh?

Tell you on the second date that if you change your hair they would like you more.

Unload your emotional baggage to explain why you're unable to care for people then wonder what's wrong with you when you're upset.

Takes photos of you as you scramble / fall undignified down valley escarpments, rather than guide you down.

Things a man does if he's trying to woo you.

Sings Turkish love songs when you walk through valleys.

Play the saz like he's doing it only for you.

Talk of finding a house with a courtyard for a cat and a shady terrace for walking.

Dip into his wallet graciously even when they're worse off than you, because we're not in northern Europe any more Toto.

Take you to see a Cappadoccian sunset.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

So where am I really today?!

"Here I am" Sertab Erener, one of my fave Turkish starlets sings... and so here I am in ... Avanos, albeit quarter past midnight so technically I didn't make it here until tomorrow.
If that makes any sense, you're doing better than me.

With heavy heart for Uchisar and increasing intolerance for the challenge of newfound relationships (post on this to come) I left with my dearest older brother, a huge hug from my Uchisar mum, words which almost brought me to tears and a stoic farewell from the rest of the family.

Inshallah - god be willing - is comonly uttered here and indeed he works in mysterious ways. Seduced by the lifestyle of Uchisar, the thought of friendly romance in the town seemed somewhat inviting. But it served to show me that what I was looking for was directly in front of me, and what will become true friends for life are those at "Bin Bir Gece".

The Manageress, Heinke, first came to 1001 Nights as a tourist staying three days. She fell in love with the place and kept returning. She now lives and breathes the place, the staff are like children, and the dog is well, a dog who loves anyone! So who has bets on me vying for her place when I am also at retirement age?!

All my postings are scribbled in my notebook which I shall being typing up now that I am away from the kindness of strangers and under strict instructions from big brother not to walk on my own in the hours of darkness.

Already I can tell that Avanos is not as charming as Uchisar. For starters it has a bus station and I have already seen tourists. So I will definitely be checking through my photos of houses for rent in Uchisar and planning that dream lifestyle of chickens on the doorstep and children playing in the dust and the call to prayer echoing off the rocks... Who can't but love a town whose police station is a cave in a cone shaped rock...

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Notes from Restaurant 96

Sitting on a pile of cushions covers while gentle notes are sung in Turkish and confident fingers beat on the saz. The rhythm moves through him like ripples of passion seaching for creative outlets. The notes stay within the stone walls, the piles of carpets. This is my private performance, soft low whisperings, of exotic chords. He breaks from concentration, peers at me over glasses and smiles the whitest of smiles, the purest of notes.

It's all over when French tourists enter. "Choc prix" he says and gestures to the kilim around him.

The sound of fountain water, bird song, and the cool of the courtyard. Baby birds chirping from their next inside narrow necked pottery. Flowers that buzz with the occassional bee, gentle murmur or voices from the kitchen. An old man snores delicately on the cushions and wakes with a start with the call to prayer, shuffles into his shoes and hurries to the mosque.

On leaving Uçhisar

Tonight should be my last nıght ın Uchısar. I love ıt here and am easıly seduced by the dusty streets clıngıng to the mountaınsıde, the old woman squatting in the doorways peeling potatoes, the children playing in the dirt, the spectacular view and of course my new friends. I feel adopted by my hotelliers at 1001 Nights; I have a big brother and many little ones not to mention a German mum and Turkish dad. And I have made a friendship that challenges me on every level, that demands I face up to my demons and fears and has asked me to stay on at Uchisar.

But will I?

I have dreamed for at least two weeks of my restored Greek monastery at Guzelyurt, and the open road beckons. But perhaps a challenging friendship is the best kind of free therapy and I should take it when I get the chance... if I can handle it...

On a lighter and less intriguing note, I have walked a valley, watched the most amazing sunsets and experienced the most exhilerating birthday including the amazing balloon ride.

More to follow, I promise, but from which town...?

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Birthday Dinner

Counting the stars with Fritz and Tom. Only the tree house and tufa cones block our view. The moon shines brightly from behind a cloud as if to say "I will be brighter and bigger in days to come".

What country is this?!

On the way out tonight I passed two Turkish young men who greeted me "bonsoir". I returned the greeting with "bonsoir" and then corrected myself.

I headed tonight's journal entry with "18 mai, soir"... I am starting to think in French.

Finally "ei kiitos" has been replaced but with "non merci" as I am offered another cup of cay...

Up Up and Away

"How long have you been flying?" asks a passenger.

"Since last Wednesday" Kaile replies with all sincerity as she launches eight mortal souls into the air. Kylie is a pilot for Kappadokya Balloons and with every quick line, we're all in stitches, because she makes us feel like she's never told the same joke or answered the same question before.

"No long have you been flying?" the question is nervously repeated.

But there is no reason to be nervous. The balloon flight is gentle, and even those of us who suffer vertigo or fear of heights (and on this flight there is a surprising many) don't have any qualms with the entire adventure.

We met at the Kappadokya Balloons office around dawn, huddled around cups of coffee and Turkish tea and were quickly ushered to the take off spot, a clear flat area, where the balloons could be inflated. This in itself is an experience. The balloons on the ground are larger than you can imagine when you see them soaring above you with little references in the sky to indicate their size. On ground, the sheets silk stretches out in endless colour and once inflation with cold air begins, the staff aiding its inflation are dwarved inside it. As the hot airs pumps in from those powerful sounding burners, the balloon and basket rights itself. We're all grinning from ear to ear.

The take off is so gentle I don't think I noticed the exact moment we left the ground. We rise slowly or so it seems and we fall slowly too, but I notice that other balloons are doing so at an alarming speed, so perhaps we are moving so gently that I can't notice the ground rush up to us or fall below us. I only notice when it's so high that I don't feel like leaning over anymore.

We fly over hand tended gardens, with crops and trees planted and watered by man not machines. We marvel at the erratic shapes of each field and the straight lines of vines. We look at the thirsty cracks in the soil, ingenious attempts at irrigation, and a scarecrow made of black bin liners. We wave and greet a farmer guneydin and with typical toothless grin, he waves back.

Of course we also explore the valleys, littered with "rude shapes" as the very English Kaile calls the phallic shaped rocks. We spot caves and pigeon niches and drift rather worryingly near the side of a valley. We lift quickly to avoid it but we can deliberately hit the soft trees, their tops bending against the balloon basket, the eight of us flinching as it draws close and then blinking in the soft pollen that is scattered once we hit.

We also just skip over a powerline, and Kaile later calls out on the radio "don't forget the power line at the end of the valley" to the other Kappadokya Balloons. We go low enough to scrape the ground as we exit a valley, and at times the balloons have been able to pick the fruit off the trees as they pass.

At a point, the group breaks into song and Happy Birthday can be heard over the air and well wishers come in over the radio. I had always dreamed of taking this flight for my 30th birthday. It's my moment and I love it.

The burners control our height, but otherwise we are at the mercy of the wind. Once we have been drifting in silence for some time, and the burners are pushed on again, I jump with the sound and the heat, which is more intense away from the balloon basket. We laugh as I ensure that next time the burners go off, I don't leap out the basket.

We are snap happy. "How many photos of Uchisar Kale from the air can we take" joke those of us staying outside of Goreme. We call it our castle with the smugness of those who are outside the main tourist traps.

We spend much more than an hour in the air and I suppose only stop because our batteries and film is exhausted and our cheeks ache with smiles. We touch down, and the support crew who have followed our progress are there to gather the balloon and with a little bit of weight shifting (the larger men get out, we women folk stay aboard) and the balloon is pushed as it drifts onto the trailer. Sure beats lifting it by hand.

We are spoilt by cake and visne with champagne when we all gather, and I am spoilt by candles and song once more. There has been no better way to turn 30, but I am sure it's also a good way to turn 31.

The diary post

A night of less sleep than planned and the heater on at first alarm - caves are cold, even in Summer.

Tearing open present and cards as if their opening will bring loved ones closer.

Sitting in a pre dawn cool, with the light beginning to illuminate the rock shapes around me.

Arrival at Goreme confirmed everything I didn't want about the place, a Soho Disco and Karaoke Bar, Flintstones Cave and rows of internet cafes. I am reunited with the couple in front of me on bus from Antalya who lament Goreme's commercialism "we could be anywhere in the world in the village". They confessed they wondered where on earth I was getting off the bus yesterday morning and I got my smug feeling...

We were bundled up and out to where the balloons are unpacked and inflated. They are larger than I imagined and the crews who unpack them are soon dwarved inside them as the cold air flows in.

The burners work their magic and the balloons come to life, right themself and the basket behind it... we are off...

Later that day, a stroll with Tom showing off my Uchisar's back streets, Dad calls and I shelter in a hut to hear him against the wind, breakfast at 1001 with presents from everyone, flowers from Heinke, a book from Lutfi and onyx from his dad. Much later in the day, a date with H, a trip to Goreme, the band plays Cold Chisel and it's the one moment he is charming, like a little boy, a young man.

It's a perfect day.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

You want to go where everybody knows your name

"You want to go where everybody knows your name" goes the song from Cheers. But actually, no I don't.

I once heard an argument that people working in the tourism industry in Turkey can be blunt with the individual tourist because they prefer to concentrate on groups. I disagree. Lone travellers with no fixed itinerary are able to spend more time and money on whatever distractions are on offer.

I've been dividing my time between 1001 Gece - who want me to see the best of the region - and those who want me to ride their camel and perhaps a few who might want me to ride something else.

I've nipped out to the pension next door where I think no one knows I am single and alone and due to have a birthday. Sure this trip has its lonely moments but they have always been so crowded with strangers that I wold quite happily perservere with loneliness.

At present for example, I am writing on a terrace overlooking rock formations like soft sand dunes of dessert and piped jazz played somewhere over the rainbow and I had that moment all to myself and not to the man next to me who was bound to ask "excuse me where are you from "but I shot him such a glance that he has retreated into his mobile.

A couple of tables over is a man who thinks I am not Turkish, which I am not, but also thinks my sunset companion, who is Turkish, but I speak French to, and our collective sunset companions, who are also Turkish but we spoke German to... anyway the table man had a go at us for some reason after sunset and H wouldn't translate but I know in French this man is a "con".

I am also known by a man called Selcuk who might have been the man who pinned an evil eye pendant on me. I am also known by Mustafa, who spoke to me in French about randonees and various other activities which now means I can't use any other guide because that would just be impolite.

I am known well to Mustafa's shop neighbours, whose names I have forgotten but will later see me in the backs of cars and other places along with their children and cousins whose names I have also forgotten.

I have now got to the stage where I am as known as a local and I have only been here two days...

I am alive

I am hoping that anyone who bothers to read my blog understands that is a sign that I am having either fun or adventures when there ıs no postiıng.

I am currently ın the small Cappadocian town of Uçhisar in a cafe populated by old men playıng cards and a keyboard wıth a lack of commas and two challenging letters for 'i'.

At the fun end of the spectrum I have a new husband - Yılmız - of Ali Baba's carpets ın Antalya. I was fed at length by hıs Turkısh French family most of yesterday. I also ınhabit a cave room carved into the rock at 1001 Nıghts Hotel ın Uçhisar where one of the workers keeps vıstıng me wıth coffee and tellıng me I am beautıful and starıng ın a rather dısturbıng way. I have chased a lot of cats ıncludıng some who let me get very close as they were very busy lıckıng flea wounds. The area I am ın has such amazıng landscape that the moon looks tame ın response. Stay tuned for 1001 photos!

On the adventure sıde I was forced to gıve my fırst hotel a good tellıng off when they faıl to meet me at the aırport (no stress for me but I poınted out that future young woman should not be left at the aırport on the assumptıon that all flıghts are two hours late). Once saıd hotel had checked me ın and asked for money I was told I dıdn't have a room. 'Not to worry' they crıed and hastıly threw a sheet across the back of receptıon. 'You can sleep there for a few hours untıl we shove you ın the dınıng room'. Needless to say I won't be stayıng at the Sabah pensıon agaın.

I also ın an act of complete stupıdıty lost the battery of my digicam and had to run over town 10 mınutes before my epıc ten hour bus rıde to buy one only to fınd ıt agaın when on the bus sweatıng...

The food ıs better than I remember - the yoghurt tangy - the cheeses dıverse and the vısne (sour cherry) all down my whıte shırt...

Wıll catch up on postıng tonıght from my cave and return to the men's backgammon later to post.

Arriving at Uchisar

It's seven am. I have been riding this bus for ten hours. I have slept ten minutes in ten different positions, each involving the paralysation of ten muscles. The bus stops at a dangerous place at a junction outside town. Only myself and another solo female traveller get off. All the Aussie backpackers and couples look at us with sleepy faces as if to ask where on earth are we going? This makes me smug as I had tried hard to find a town that was not another Bali or Bondi.

The streets are quiet and I have that exhilerating feeling where you don't know where you are going but you know it's an adventure not a problem.

Many houses have carts (as in horse and - ) in front of them, and after several photos of them (they are decorated in handpainted motifs), I realise that I need to stop as there is one in front of nearly every house.

Only very old men in Muslim skull caps dot the streets. They respond with toothless grins set in wrinkled leather faces when I greet them Guneydin.

Goreme Cadessi is a dirt road lined with stone built houses, abandoned arches, caves and crannies cut into the rocks, punctuated by pensions.

The landscape is as I imagine and more, quarry like layers of stone, endless vistas of folded rock, generations of strata, all like dollops of some rich dessert. There are cones with caves, windows with ornate decoration, pigeon niches and more.

To top it off, beautiful big balloons fill the sky and I know I will be in one tomorrow...

There is nothing better than when you arrive in a new place and see something for the first time, alone - and you think it's all your discovery. Nothing can get in the way of your pleasure, no buses to catch, no itineraries, no connections, only a desperate need for a toilet...

The hotel was quiet, and so a random member of staff was left to greet me in a mixture of French, Turkish and English. He perturbed me by firstly knowing I was due to arrive (as the previous hotel did not!) and by staring at me rather intently. Disturbance increased when he presented me with the key to my room and two cheek kisses. I thought I was just going to get a demonstration of how the curtains are drawn and the locks work...

After encouraging me to take a shower, and with immaculate timing to coincide with my undressing, he returned to my door with a coffee, and with Paddington Bear like stair added "you are very beautiful". Having been offered potentially dodgy coffee before (Assos / Behramkale) and had someone try to get into my room (Assos / Behramkale and Ankara) I was starting to get very nervous.

I thought of lots of self defence techniques. I thought of what I could put against the door. I thought of nothing because after four nights on a handle of sleep, I quickly fell asleep.

So much for fight or flight.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

Happiness - banned

Happy Hours are to be stopped across UK pubs in an effort to combat binge drinking.

Again a little more education might also be a good thing.

As an under paid office temp in London, I used to enjoy the chance of buying cheap drinks, we'd stock the cheap wine and save it for later, didn't pee in the streets or stab anyone.

But now, we're all paying for more but will probably still drink the same.

Not surprisingly the pubs are all in favour. They know that people get to a certain stage of drunkeness where the price doesn't matter anyway...

The show must go on.

British viewers were all upset because the brunt of the nationwide BBC staff strike was borne by the Chelsea Flower Show. The gardening expo was not put to air until much later in the day. Much blossoming was missed.

Most of the substitute programmes and substitute presenters were actually seen as refreshing and enjoyable which probably wasn't the ideal response that strikers were hoping for...

Not in this neighbouhood

Finland may seem strange but there are some odd things happening in the UK in a serious way. The big issue on my return was youths wearing hooded tops and being menacing. Personally I think the youths, education, family values and facilities for young people have a lot to answer for. But apparently it's all in the hood...

"A Manchester teenager has been banned from wearing a hooded top for five years after a campaign of violence."

Bluewater shopping centre enjoyed a sharp rise in visitor numbers on the first weekend since it banned youths wearing hooded tops and baseball caps."

A school could help restore the reputation of the notorious hooded top after making it part of its uniform."

"Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott has backed the shopping centre which has outlawed hooded tops and baseball caps."

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Arriving at Stansted

I am back in the UK thought back in the USSR is playing in my head. Though I have been pleasantly surprised with the weather and pleased to see some fat cows in lovely green fields, there is nothing that excites me here. Not even Crunchie Bars and canned spaghetti.

I have realised I like living in a foreign country. I like the challenge of living in a different and difficult country. I like the perplexities of the Finnish language and of course the Finnish people. Don't tell anyone but I just might like it there.

On the plane, between fits of deep dribbling-on-shoulder sleep, I daydreamed of taking the train to Russia, walking along the South Karelian border, learning the country's history, cycling through Aland at midsummer.

I want to see more of Estonia than Tallinn, pop across to Riga and visit Stockholm, but not on the slow drinking disco boat. I want to visit Berlin again and soak up its history till it crushes me. I want to take a train to Poland and actually do something in Jyvaskala besides work! I want to see the northern lights in winter and watch the sun bounce off the horizon in summer.

I want to try cross country skiing, go ice fishing, walk on more frozen seas. Maybe this trip will help me decide how long I might be in Finland for.

The UK is putting it in a good light but how will Suomi fare against sunny hospitable Turkey?

Back to those dribbling day dreams...

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The itinerary

Wednesday 11 May
Depart Helsinki for Tallinn via ferry
Depart Tallinn for Stansted via plane

Sunday 15 May
Depart Birmingham

Monday 16 May
Arrive Antalya, a brief sleep at Sabah Pension
Depart Antalya via bus

Tuesday 17 May
Arrive Goreme, try to find way to Uchisar. Sinking feeling I will be stranded at Nevsehir at 5am
Overnight at 1001 Gece / 1001 Nights

Wednesday 18 May
Balloon flight over Goreme with Kappadokya balloons

Friday 20 May
Depart Uchisar for Avanos
Overnight at Kirkit Pension

Sunday 22 May
Depart Avanos for Guzelyurt
Overnight at Karballa hotel

Sunday 23 May
Overnight at Kavalli hotel

Monday 24 May
Depart Guzelyurt for Antalya

Tuesday 25 May
Depart Antalya for Kemer
Start working...

Monday 6 June
Drive through some unknown part of Turkey

Wednesday 9 June
Go "home"....

One more sleep

Remember when you were a kid and used to count the number of sleeps till something exciting happens. Well, one more sleep before I start moving again.

I haven't had a lot of time to be too excited because I have been ultra busy trying to finish off work and make all those life arrangements that you have to do when going away for four weeks.
Of course, leaving always means goodbye and last night, fuelled by some White Russians (cocktails as opposed to folks across the border) I said my first goodbye. AussieGirl, as I'll call her, or AG for short only came into my life a few weeks ago. But as loud Aussie girls (generic rather than specific) are known to do, we shared life stories in a few coffees, a pack of Marlboro and twenty minutes that turned into a day.

AG and I were philosophical about parting. She had her mantra that people came into your life for a "reason, a season or a lifetime". I felt that the movie Lost in Translation perfectly summed up the transient nature of so many of my friendships.

In a blur of drunken haze, camera flash light, and biting wit, we said our goodbyes.

This morning, I also said goodbye to The Finn. Not a "goodbye, I never want to see you again" but a "goodbye, you're not deep in my heart anymore". It was cathartic to say it. It's true that I miss what I thought I had, and there's a big sadness that goes with that. But there is little in the current persona of The Finn that makes me weep anymore. Last year, this year, two different people. Like my transient friends, there are also transient lovers, who exist only in a specific time and place and don't or can't transcend any changes.

Philosophical for 9am I know. So know I'm going to my tea before it gets cold. And there's a lot to do before I get to that one last sleep...

Air Guitar World Championship entries open!

Get your fingers strumming and your hips gyrating - entries are now open for the Air Guitar World Championships.

"The Championships take place in Oulu, Finland, on 24 - 26 August. This year we have fun and promote world peace already for the tenth time. The mischievous offspring of the Oulu Music Video Festival celebrates in a manner befitting its age: singing, playing and competing. The national champions from more than ten countries will be invited to join the birthday party along with all the world over the Internet." quotes the official press release.

"In honour of the anniversary year, the final in the art of playing without a guitar moves from the outdoors to indoor premises at the brand new Club Teatria, a former slaughterhouse nowadays rented by top hockey player Janne Niinimaa." I would be very interested to know what Janne has a slaughterhouse. Is the sportsman's version of the summer cottage?

The festivities and competition also include "a one-minute moment of noise" which I suppose is an important notice to make, lest any subdued Finns be outraged by a sudden burst in the silence.

For those new to Air Guitar or a little out of practice, you can get in shape for the competition by way of the "High Altitude Camp, which takes place on an island situated near the Oulu City Centre. The camp leads its participants to the basics of Air Guitar, for example through choreography studies and private lessons from previous Champions. Also music videos will be made for each of the Air Guitarists for promotional use. The camp ends on Thursday 25 August. The participation fee for the camp is 75 euros, including lectures and exercises, accommodation, sauna and meals aswell as a final exam."

This is indeed every man's dream come true!
For more information, there really is an official website.

On a serious note, at the end of the press release I noticed this: "According to the ideology of the Air Guitar, wars would end and all bad things would disappear if all the people in the world played the Air Guitar. This is why everyone is invited to play the Air Guitar simultaneously at the end of the competition." Ahhhh

Saturday, May 07, 2005

Third Culture Kids

I am
a confusion of cultures.
Uniquely me.
I think this is good
because I can
the traveller, sojourner, foreigner,
the homesickness
that comes.
I think this is also bad
because I cannot
be understood
by the person who has sown and grown in one place.
They know not
the real meaning of homesickness
that hits me
now and then.
Sometime I despair of
understanding them.
I am
an island
a United Nations.
Who can recognise either in me
but God?

"Uniquely Me" by Alex Graham James. As reproduced in Third Culture Kids by D. Pollock and R. Van Reken.

Thanks to Tanja for introducing me to what I am and why I am restless, for the gentle pointer that explains why now, when I was so ready to settle down and the floor moved from under my feet, I am so ready to go again, yet so sad to leave.

Or as the beautiful rough sleeper Jock put it "you like us, because you are one of us. We have no home."

Friday, May 06, 2005

Battery needs jump starting

I am having trouble doing. Anything. Things.

I thought it was because I don't want to go back to the never ending report. It could be that. But it feels like a sort of general apathy, malaise, a sleepy attention deficit disorder.

I don't want to read, write, plan, clean, eat, sleep, stay awake, work anything. Last night I went to bed dressed, because I could not be bothered moving. (Later in the night I woke uncomfortable and changed so I am not that bad a slob!)

I think it's because I have survived (nearly) two months of Finland Academy and now I want a really big sleep and rest. Instead I have a 4 page to do list before I get a 3 week holiday (but still have to write social care papers).

I know that tonight I will do nothing, the list will get longer and by Sunday night I will be hysterical with panic over what has to be done both work and house and life wise...


Thursday, May 05, 2005

Finn Things to look forward to #102

Strong man and woman competition: Because you never know when you need to carry a roll of cable or a truck part with your bare hands.

Wife carrying: Does what it says on the tin. Apparently the history stems from:
"the 19th century, when a dodgy bandit known as Ronkainen started a trend of raiding outlying Finnish villages by night, grabbing wives from men's beds as they slept and running off with them into the hills."

Air guitar world championships: An internationally renowned event.

Sauna world championships: Yet to work out if the winner is based on how long you can endure or how how it can go. I love this quote from the history "
Problems and mixed emotions, however, arose when the innocent people coming to the swimming hall suddenly noticed being in the middle of a competition - in the hottest spot of the sauna." and these rules "In men´s swimsuit the length of the trouser leg must be under 200 millimeters (measured from the middle seam of the trousers). The width of the women´s swimsuits sleeves must be under 50 millimeters and there can be no collars in the swimsuits. The organizer gives more detailed directions about the lenght of the swimsuits sleeves (women) and trouser legs (women and men)."

Things I love about Finland #101

Sitting in petrol station cafes - the hub of the community.

Watching the Nordic walkers come in for a rest and caffeine, the local kids in slipknot t-shirts just hang, the families take the lounas buffet.

Best of all watching a family man break the monotony of the public holiday by carefully stretching his "ocky strap" around his beer, firmly attaching it to the rear of his bicycle, and cycling off, one hand behind, reassuringly patted his beloved beer on the back.

Everything goes full circle

The horrible horrible no-end-in-sight work has come back into my in box with some revisions.

Which makes it status never-ending, which is further than no-end-in-sight.

Only lst week, I thought, "if... I ...can... just... get ...this... done..." like a wounded soldier dragging their fallen body to safety. And I did and celebrated with Anzac day and Vappu and a lot of fun. And forgot all about it.

But now it's back. A vicious nasty circle with teeth. A boring circle talking endlessly of social care. A circle marked red with author's notes. A circle of cross referenced contents pages, appendixes and headings that don't stop...

In today's other circle, a friend of mine that I have been trying to train in the art of the "call back".
Me: Want to go out for coffee?
They: I'll let you know
Months later, they realise they didn't. So today after an intense period of call back instructions, no call back.

Just when you think you are getting somewhere.

I think today, I should have gone to Estonia.

Today I am...

... wearing a pink dress and high heels because I miss being a woman.
... afraid to sniff the milk in the fridge.
... wishing canned spaghetti would fall from the sky into my flat.
... listening to the wind whisper howlings because I won't shut the window properly.
... considering whether to learn Finnish or go back to French.
... nursing a sore neck but not considering swimming or any exercise.
... spending too much time on Finn Forum rather than working on a horrid report.
... wanting to go to Berlin after finishing reading Stasiland last night.
... running out of things to list!

Finn Things to look forward to #101

From a website posting on Finnish traditions...

"Which brings us to the most popular sport of Midsummer, that is drowning. Every year, there is a competition; how many people manage to die by drowning at Midsummer. There are many ways to go. One way is first to drink a lot of alcohol, take a very hot sauna bath, and run out into the icy lake. Then you get a cramp, a heart attack, or a stroke. If you don't, you must swim into the opposite shore, some two miles away. Of course you can do it! All that booze you've been drinking keeps you warm and gives you the strength."

Well that's one way to put it.

I think I'll wear my water wings during Midsummer.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Carrying heavy things

The other day a dear friend of mine sent a rather large box of goodies from the UK. I had to collect it from the posti and take it back to my place. The posti was 700 metres away, but it was the day after Vappu and my body seriously regretted trying to play rugby and drink like a Finn. I had to open the parcel at the posti and then carry it back 700 metres.

You would think this was easy.

But it wouldn't comfortably go: under the arm, in front of me, to my side, on my head, under the other arm, in both arms, on my shoulder or cradled like a baby.

The trick with heavy things, is to know how to carry them.

It's no secret that January till now has been a personal hell for me. Far from my 30th year being one of learning, wisdom, fresh challenges and adventure, it has instead been peppered with c0ck ups. And the result is a rather large box of troubles that have to go a greater distance tharn 700 metres.

I think I have learned to carry them.

Waking up knowing you have not cried your last tear, but at least wailed your last wail. Waking up feeling the steely ring around your heart, but knowing it will one day come down in a terrific moment to music and light like the Berlin Wall. Knowing that you said a civilian goodbye to part of your grief. Knowing that you will still hurt, still feel alone but now know how to carry it.

I feel what I carry but it doesn't weigh down just one shoulder or push on my back. It doesn't have awkward straps or parcel string that cuts into fingers. It's just an extra weight, like a teenage girl who woke up fat with breasts or puberty. It's something I just carry.

Exactly a fortnight till I turn 30. Perhaps with the weight properly distributed I can turn this corner...

Stop the dog

Ruff Ruff Yap yap.

I am sure that the neighbours had a dog from the day I moved in here. Ruff Ruff Yap yap. Or at least they owned a sticker that said "Mr Fireman, please save my dog in the event of an emergency". Ruff Ruff Yap yap.

But lately, the dog has been barking a lot. Ruff Ruff Yap yap. Since the dog, and it's clearly deaf owner, occupy the flat next to elevator, there are a lot of things for the dog to bark at. Ruff Ruff Yap yap.

Sometimes when there is nothing audible to the human ear, the dog is barking. Ruff Ruff Yap yap. And it's not a hearty woof woof. It's a small dog annoying high pitched whining yap yap. Ruff Ruff Yap yap.

And the RSPCA better get here real quick or I am going to be waiting outside that neighbour's front door with a heavy based frying pan for when that dog comes out for a night time pee. Ruff Ruff Yap yap.

I am considering putting dog biscuits through the letter box to give the pooch something to chew on rather than bark about. Ruff Ruff Yap yap.

Sorry about all the "Ruff Ruff Yap yap" but you need to know how painful this is.

If cats ruled the world, it would be a better place.
Ruff Ruff ya- smack.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Into the kitchen woman

Cooking makes me feel good

It has been days, nearly weeks, since I have cooked, which says something of my mood. I love to cook. I love the smell of onions on my hands, of garlic in a pan, of butter melting. I love the sound of frying and bubbling. I like the whiff from a roast when the oven door has been opened. I like it more if I remember to move my face away before getting my skin blown off my the heat.

Cooking for one requires some motivation.

On Vappu, I woke up with needs. I made rice salad for 20. "Eat eat" I cried, like an old Italian mamma. "Food is love," and I piled plates and packed containers for people to take to work for tomorrow's lunch.

When my invoices are paid and I am a fully cashed up member of society again, I am going to cook for everyone I know and anyone who has ever helped me. Pots of coconut creamy chicken curry, tomato soup and bolognese from scratch, real Mexican guacamole, picnic style fried chicken, creamy wholegrain mustard sauces, mint and lemon chick pea salads, zingy fruity lamb cuisines. I'm going to make my own hollandaise sauce and invite people for breakfast. I'll show Finns what bangers really are and when the bbq outside is clear I'll bring out the steak. I'm going to pop wine drunk chickens in the oven, I'm going to pierce the fat of lamb with garlic, rub sea salt over it's surface and smother it and me in rosemary. I will find the best mozarella, the best asparagus, the best produce Finland has. I'm even going to cook beef rendang from scratch, well maybe.

There will be a meal for every bill translated, for every Finland tip given, for every smile received, I'll give Aussie style hamburgers...

Can someone please do the dishes?

Festive considerations

It's three days since Vappu Eve and I can't be compelled to write anything.

Okay so the whole hat waving thing didn't inspire me on the 30th... the 1st... a nice day with new friends... a lot of funny strangers.

I'm over it already, even if my muscles aren't. I think I'm getting old.

I'm more excited that I made new friends on Vappu eve who have invited me over to dinner and read my Blog, I have achieved closure on a certain part of my life, I finally did the dishes, I met a new going out friend from Wales, I started a new book on East Germany which is fascinating and soon I get to go to Turkey and play baby sitter for a few days.

Wow, I am getting old. I can hear 30 beckoning, knocking on my door. Or maybe I've just been to enough big loud drinking places that I'm over it.

May Day vs Vappu

As Easter was like Halloween, so my non Finnish friends may be unsure how Vappu is May Day.

They are on one and the same date, but are an amalgamation of different activities. May Day being associated with labour relations and Vappu being (of course) a pagan celebration...

Here's the history:
Vappu: From Helsingin Sanomat
The history of Vappu stems from Germany where May Eve is celebrated as Valpurgisnacht, a well-known witches' sabbath.
Walburga, the original Vappu, was born in around 710 AD, and she died 69 years later in Heidenheim, in what is now Germany. She was an abbess and a missionary. Her life was naturally a good one but what singled her out for canonisation was that after her death and the subsequent interment of her relics (on May 1, 870) in the Church of the Holy Cross in Eichstätt, strange things began to happen. Her shrine became an important pilgrimage site because of the clear liquid, referred to as a “miraculous oil”, that oozed from the rock on which her tomb was placed. Some twenty years after the interment, Walburga's relics were inspected and diffused, and this spread her cult status far and wide.
At this point we move into the realm of speculation. There are two possible theories. On the one side we have the possibility that soon after her death, the memory of her became confused with that of Waldborg, a pre-Christian fertility goddess, and the witches' sabbaths became known as Valpurgisnacht, without materially changing their contents. This confusion is not helped by the fact that Walburga is supposed to be a protectress of crops as well as a healer, and in art she is often pictured with three ears of corn in addition to her flask of medicinal oil.
The other scenario, which seems equally plausible, is that the abbess was seen as a handy tool for quietening down the witchcraft rituals associated with this time of the year. As so often throughout the history of the early Christian church, saints' days and other holy days were often placed strategically in the calendar to counter the effects of “less devout” pantheistic or pagan festivals, and this may be the case here, as St. Walburga and her healing oils were given the tough task of countering the bacchanalian orgies of April 30th.
This particular dodge might have worked for Christmas (timed to coincide with the very rowdy Saturnalia orgies of Roman days), but at least to judge by the standards of Finnish Vappu, there isn't very much of a devotional aspect to be seen.
What began in Scandinavia in the 18th century as a civilised at-home celebration amongst the academic set (many of whom had studied in Germany) has changed with time and was adopted here in Finland with the rise of nationalism amongst students in the mid-19th century.

The labour connection from Wikipedia
The holiday is most often associated with the commemoration of the social and economic achievements of the labor movement. The May 1st date is used because in 1884 the Federation of Organized Trades and Labor Unions demanded an eight-hour workday in the United States, to come in effect as of May 1, 1886. This resulted in the general strike and the U.S. Haymarket Riot of 1886, but eventually also in the official sanction of the eight-hour workday.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Hyvaa Vappua

With my head still aching from a cognac champagne and a pint of vodka downed on the way home, my memories of vappu include...
  • Sitting in a sauna with strange naked men, and a Mexican and Australian girl fully dressed. The strange thing was that the sauna was in a VW comby van.
  • An Australian friend brandishing a wrought iron curtain rail, punctuated with barbed ends and trying to convince us it was really for a flag pole.
  • The rows of men using the Embassy walls as urinals.
  • French men playing rugby with two very drunk Hash House Harriers that didn't even know which way they were going.
  • Getting instructions to meet someone "outside the station, next to the clown."
May Day in Numbers
45,000 The estimated number of people in Kaivopuisto Park having a picnic on Sunday
21 The estimated number of toilets available for this crowd
0 The seconds of which the sun was unobscured by cloud
4 The number of people on an impromptu French rugby team I joined
640 The number of muscles that hurt as a result of running around with said rugby team
1 The number of beers I had to down down with the H5 for wearing my devil beanie / woolly hat
2 The number of naked men I saw on the day
20 The number of men in Oulo who had a May Day fight on Vappu Eve

Sunday, May 01, 2005

A little more conversation, a little less urine please...

Twas the night before Vappu and all through the house, not a creature was stirring...
they were all in Helsinki getting drunk...

Two observations stick in my mind: I have never seen such a large and quiet crowd; and Finnish men should learn to drink something less likely to make them p!ss on themselves...

1300: arrival at bus station
1305: pre-Alko closing panic renders me useless for finding Alko
1307: strangers on street lead me to Alko
1315: arrival at Alko, a writhing pit of humanity. Reach your hand in toward a shelf and see what you can pull out. Teeming with people, shelves bare in instants. Scary and yet a little exciting.
1330: witness local students play tug of war with a tractor. Witness local permanent drunk at the centre of the action. Realise today all drunks are equal and applaud him for seizing the day
1406: start pouring tonic water on the ground so I can pour gin in. Become the subject of a tourist's photo as a result.
1418: talk to local about the state of the nation outside McDonalds
1448: begin the Esplanati walk. Balloons. Balloons. Balloons. Beer. Beer. Beer. Surrounded by 15 year old Slipknot fans and the ocassional panda.
1502: Amanda looks well.
1600: Amanda's fountain gets bubble bathed. Or the surrounding seals get rabies.
1745: Amanda gets a wash from the locals.
1800: Amanda gets a hat. The crowd goes wild. Oh no, we're in Finland, cue golf clap. Hats wave in the air. Champagne corks pop. I make a Freudian slip while trying to say that last sentence.
1820: The streets run ... don't lean against any trees or walls and avoid the wet ground.

Full report once I have washed my shoes.